Billy Vunipola scored a 79th-minute try as Saracens came from behind to beat London Irish 36-32 in a gripping Premiership clash.
Billy Vunipola scored a 79th-minute try as Saracens came from behind to beat London Irish 36-32 in a gripping Premiership encounter at Madejski Stadium on Saturday.
Irish stunned Sarries away from home last season, and almost managed to do the same on their own turf with a magnificent four try haul.
Alex Lewington's hat-trick seemed to be enough, but Vunipola's last-gasp score snatched a win for last year's league leaders.
After a vital win against Newcastle last week, Irish had good reason to go into the game with some confidence, but were dealt an early blow. Brad Barritt made an early break, and set up his centre partner Tim Streather to score inside two minutes, a score which helped to keep the Madjeski Stadium quiet.
Despite spending the first 10 minutes without a touch of the ball, Irish got themselves back in the game. After Owen Farrell's penalty, the home side scored straight from kick off.
Shane Geraghty's vision was superb, chipping a ball over the top of the Sarries defence and giving Blair Cowan a run into the corner.
Irish were playing well against their high-spending opponents, but were unable to prevent another try from the visitors. Richard Wigglesworth's break caught out the home defence, and the scrum-half raced away to increase the lead.
Many would have expected Brian Smith's men to roll over after Wigglesworth's score, but two tries before the break put Irish just four points behind.
Lewington scored two in ten minutes, the first a superb finish in the corner, the second a lovely gather and touchdown after a Scott Steele grubber.
Farrell's late penalty did slightly take the gloss off a superb Irish first half, though.
The Exiles came out for the second period with the same attacking intent as they had in the first, with Geraghty knocking over a sensational penalty to keep it a one-point game.
There was more sensation soon after, Lewington scored the try of the game, completing his hat-trick and putting Irish in front for the first time.
Alex Goode took over Farrell's kicking responsibilities, and scored two quick-fire penalties to put the scores level at 29-a-piece.
With the game on a knife edge, every kick was significant, with Geraghty squeezing one over from long range to keep the Exiles ahead, and Goode missing what would usually have been the simplest of kicks.
Saracens took a huge gamble with a minute to go, choosing to kick into the corner despite their being a kickable penalty.
It paid off. The ball was shifted to the back, with Sarries powering past a tiring London Irish maul to break Exiles hearts.
For London Irish:
Tries: Cowan, Lewington 3
Cons: Geraghty 3
Tries: Streather, Wigglesworth, Vunipola
Cons: Farrell 2, Hodgson
Pens: Farrell 3, Goode 2
London Irish: 15 Andrew Fenby, 14 Alex Lewington, 13 Fergus Mulchrone, 12 Shane Geraghty, 11 James Short, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Scott Steele, 9 Luke Narraway, 7 Ofisa Treviranus, 6 Blair Cowan, 5 Jebb Sinclair, 4 George Skivington (c), 3 Halani Aulika, 2 David Paice, 1 Tom Court.
Replacements: 16 Gerard Ellis, 17 Matt Parr, 18 Leo Halavatau, 19 Dan Leo, 20 Kieran Low, 21 Tom Guest, 22 TomÃ¡s O'Leary, 23 Eamonn Sheridan.
Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Tim Streather, 12 Brad Barritt (c), 11 Chris Wyles, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Jacques Burger, 6 Ernst Joubert, 5 Hayden Smith, 4 Jim Hamilton, 3 Kieran Longbottom, 2 Jamie George, 1 Rhys Gill.
Replacements: 16 Scott Spurling, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 James Johnston, 19 Mouritz Botha, 20 Jackson Wray, 21 Neil de Kock, 22 Charlie Hodgson, 23 Duncan Taylor.
Venue: Madejski Stadium
Referee: Luke Pearce
Assistant Referees: Ross Campbell, Nigel Carrick
TMO: David Grashoff